Conversation: Alton Garrison
Discipleship in the Assemblies of God
Alton Garrison is the assistant general superintendent of
the Assemblies of God. He spoke recently with Editor Ken Horn about a new
emphasis on discipleship.
evangel: Why is discipleship an area of current concern for
GARRISON: Evangelicals have expressed concerns over discipleship
based on the Reveal Report from Willow Creek, and the books unChristian by
David Kinnaman and The American Church in Crisis by David Olson.
Kinnaman said, “In virtually every study we conduct,
representing thousands of interviews every year, born-again Christians fail to
display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives.”
In other words, Christians and non-Christians seem to be
living very similar lifestyles. Clearly, this ought not to be.
evangel: What steps were taken to measure this tendency in
GARRISON: In 2008, the Discipleship Ministries Agency
commissioned Dr. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Christian Resources to conduct a
national survey on the state of discipleship in the Assemblies of God. We
mailed a survey to our 12,300 churches; 2,614 responded — a very good
There was both good news and bad news. In some areas of
discipleship Pentecostals typically do better than others, but there are
certainly other areas where we have challenges.
[Editor’s note: See the Conversation with Ed Stetzer in the
Sept. 27 Pentecostal Evangel about this research.]
evangel: Could you summarize some of the key findings?
GARRISON: About half of Assemblies of God adherents are
involved in small groups or Sunday School. These are clearly effective
ministries. Those who attend these groups are more likely to develop into true
disciples than those who simply attend the Sunday morning celebration service.
Forty-five percent of churches say they regularly evaluate the
progress and spiritual growth of their members. Sixty-four percent of those
surveyed claim they are dissatisfied with the state of discipleship in their
We know it is God’s will for every convert to become a fully
devoted follower of Jesus — a disciple of Christ. That is clearly
indicated in the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
(Matthew 28:19,20, NIV). We decided we must create a more robust, holistic
discipleship strategy — assessing, resourcing, training and modeling.
evangel: How is AG leadership implementing this strategy?
GARRISON: We are putting our full effort into providing
resources and training to help our churches close this gap in discipleship by
strengthening expressions of both corporate discipleship and individual
discipleship. Corporate discipleship is how a church promotes full Christian
living among the congregation. Individual discipleship is the outgrowth of
those truths in each believer’s life.
This is best resourced by the Acts 2 Process, which is a
biblically based paradigm I’ve shared in my booklet The Acts 2 Church. It’s
based on Acts 2:42-47 which, in part, says: “They devoted themselves to the
apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to
prayer. … They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and
sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the
Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” This basically
reflects the five functions of the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship,
gift-oriented ministry and evangelism. Those translate to our five elements of
the process that we call worship, connect, grow, serve and go. It’s for the
church as a whole, but you can also overlay that same paradigm for personal
evangel: What resources are available?
GARRISON: Church Ministries and Gospel Publishing House have
developed several exciting new resources to help this process along. For
The 360-Degree Disciple: This handbook will help individual
believers become godly disciples who draw others to Christ. It includes a
special section on discipling specific age groups, families, ethnicities and
The Acts 2 Process for church growth: Church growth doesn’t
have to be a formula, nor does it have to be difficult. If you follow the
principles outlined in Acts 2:42-47, churches can see sustainable growth. This
paradigm is appropriate for churches of any size — from very large to
very small. It is a simple process, but it’s not simplistic. That’s an
important distinction. It is simple — that is, not complex — but it
has to be intentional. The Acts 2 Church booklet includes evaluation questions
and ideas to get the process started.
The Spiritual Health Planner: This resource has been very
popular; it has been flying off the shelves. The planner is an excellent way to
assess the spiritual health of any congregation — both as individuals and
as a group. It doesn’t just diagnose; it offers a personalized plan for growth.
And it’s also great for individual or small-group study.
Faith Case: Investigating the Truth: This is a children’s
church curriculum for kids in the first through sixth grades that teaches the
16 Fundamental Truths in 12 fun lessons kids will never forget.
Other helpful resources include Secrets: Transforming Your
Life and Marriage, a book and associated small-group kit, and thefiftytwo.com,
an online year’s worth of youth resources for the volunteer youth leader. More
tools are available at our Web site, discipleship.ag.org.
evangel: You have speakers who are ready and willing to go
to any church to help with this process.
GARRISON: We’re excited to offer training, both through the
Internet and in local churches. Nationally recognized speakers are available to
churches and districts to speak on how to develop discipleship in local
settings. Topics include “The Acts 2 Process for a Disciple-Making Church,”
“Personal Assessment and Growth,” “Creating Spirit-Empowered Disciples” and
“Assimilation Through Discipleship.” More information is available at www.speakersbureau.ag.org.
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